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Polyamory explained

What is polyamory? And is it for me? If you haven’t heard of polyamory you’ve probably been living under a rock. The definitions and descriptions of the many different sexualities, gender orientations, who you’re attracted to and, of course, relationship styles have exploded rather delightfully over the past few years. Both media and literature are full of relatively new terms; polysexual, omnisexual, pansexual, ethical non-monogamy, and non-binary, to mention a few; it’s a minefield.

But what does polyamory mean?

You only have to enter one of these in your favourite search engine to find yourself going down a glorious rabbit hole of sexual and romantic diversity.

In Cosmopolitan 2021, data from a popular ethical dating site Feeld showed a 140% increase in mentions of ethical non-monogamy (ENM) and poly-related descriptions in the UK. ENM is an umbrella term for open relationships, and polyamory is one specific style within this.

I’m not going to attempt to define all the different terminologies I’ve mentioned already here; I’ll let you go and find out about these and a whole host of others if you’re interested.

However, I will give you a little flavour of what it means to be polyamorous.

Essentially, polyamory is about being open to loving more than one person; being romantically involved with potentially multiple people at the same time. Crucially these relationships can all be considered serious or important. The key thing is that everyone knows about each other, nothing is secret, and everything is out in the open.

Simply defined, ‘poly’ derives from the Greek word many and ‘amory’ from the Latin for love. The key difference between open relationships and being poly is that love is allowed.

Polyamory is it for me – the pros

An obvious benefit of being polyamorous is the chance to develop deep, intimate, romantic and sexual relationships with multiple people. This can be so rewarding and means that the opportunities for exploring sexual fantasies and kink can be endless. Every partner has something different and unique they bring to the table.

To have the freedom to act on an attraction towards someone other than your partner is thrilling and fulfilling. Essentially your capacity for love can be realised, not stifled.

A goal for successful polyamorous relationships is that you gain satisfaction in seeing your partner’s joy in finding love and pleasure with someone else. There is a specific term for this called compersion which simply defined means our wholehearted participation in the happiness of others. It’s like the opposite of jealousy which can be a big issue and is something which needs frank, honest discussion so that each partner feels safe and secure within predefined boundaries. Much is written on this, which you can research and use to help you navigate this new territory.

Poly confessional

‘Being in a throuple, an exciting threeway was one of the most rewarding and also challenging relationship experiences I’ve ever had. The highs were absolutely incredible; the feeling of connectedness, the sex and intimacy we created felt so unique and special. The secrecy and taboo nature of it no doubt added to this frisson.

I remember the build-up sexting prior to our tristes with her, whether all three or just two of us were meeting. We all had separate relationships with each other as well as within the throuple, so it’s a complex set of connections to manage.

It’s not for the faint-hearted, it’s multifaceted and difficult at times, especially if you are sitting at home while the other two are together. We all had moments of jealousy, and although we felt utterly invincible, the relationship ultimately didn’t last as, in hindsight, we probably weren’t honest enough about our needs, and we were inexperienced!

My advice; set ground rules and talk about the practicalities as well as the emotions. Work on and talk about the feelings that come up. This way, you can acknowledge and address them and hopefully find solutions together. If you can get through these tricky issues, you may reap astonishing rewards.’

Popularity and visibility

There has also been an increase in the media of celebrities who are ‘out’ about their more open relationship styles. For example, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett, as well as her daughter Willow (although I’d obviously like to clarify not with each other!) have all spoken openly about being involved in open relationships.

Lets talk about rules

In open relationships (as opposed to poly ones) often conducted via swinging circles, it’s often more about sex and less about ongoing deeper emotional connections. Falling in love with someone else would be a big taboo in open relationships, and there may be more rules around not having sex separately to your partner or even keeping in touch with another sexual partner via text maybe considered a big no.

As in any relationship, boundaries are important and therefore having some really frank open honest conversations are essential to set some ground rules if you decide to explore polyamory. This necessarily is an ongoing discussion as, from experience, situations change. Acceptable limits morph and grow according to how relationships develop. As confidence grows, partners and needs will no doubt change too.

Consent is obviously critical when discussing any sexual liaison, and I’m not going to say more on this here as there is plenty written elsewhere on this topic.

Being clear about what you want and letting your partners know as well as finding this out from them, is crucial.

Always use protection. This is obvious, and in long-term poly relationships, certain partners may decide to become; ‘fluid-bonded’ and decide after testing not to use protection. This should always be discussed openly with your other partners so that they can make decisions about risks for themselves.

Disadvantages of being polyamorous

The complexity of managing and communicating within lots of romantic relationships can become overwhelming and highly emotional, and the intensity can be multiplied by the number of people involved.

Partner Turnover can be upsetting and unsettling for everyone involved.

Faulty Negotiation can result in doomed relationships if rules that everyone ‘buys into’ aren’t agreed upon.

There can be legal difficulties or questions over financial security in long-term relationships if issues such as divorce, death, ownership of property or pensions are involved. These are not insignificant issues to be considered if being poly is going to be a way of life for you or your partners.


I choose to be solo-poly, which means that I have multiple intimate relationships. However, I still essentially have an independent single lifestyle. I don’t live with my partners or share finances, and I reject traditional relationship milestones where lives become more intertwined.

Being solo-poly doesn’t mean that I have to declare undying love for each of the people I choose to spend time with sexually, but it does mean that I value each of them, respect their boundaries as well as look after my own and the fact that I have different sexual partners is never kept a secret.

Who is having these relationships?

In a Rolling Stones article in 2018 about diversity in polyamory, bisexual and polysexuals (attracted to multiple genders) were unsurprisingly more likely to be poly, whereas straight people were more likely to report as being monogamous.

The Journal of Sex recently found that divorced people and those with lower earning potential were also more likely to be involved in polyamory. Most people find the idea of being sexually involved more palatable than being romantically involved, and women are apparently more open to being poly than men. Interesting facts! You could use these as a conversation starter with your partner…

Where to read more …

There is a plethora of reading available online, but also some key books to read e.g. The Ethical Slut by Hardy and Easton, More Than Two by Veaux and Rickert, Polysecure by Jessica Fern, Smart Girls Guide to Polyamory, Opening Up by Tristan Taormino, Sex at Dawn, Open by Rachel Krantz.

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